Reethu, a story teller, a person often found between the pages of a book or contemplating the nuances of life.
We live in a world where taking a Paracetamol for fever is accepted, but anti-depressants for mental health issues is not. The moment it comes to mental health, people prefer talking under their breath. The world 'mental' is always associated with the term 'mad'.
In India, talking about mental health issues is not easy for those suffering from them, because of the absolutely unnecessary, pervasive stigma around the topic. People fail to realise that there is nothing wrong with having mental health issues, just as there is nothing wrong with having a broken leg or dealing with high blood pressure.
India has the largest number of suicides in the world, with one suicide occurring every four minutes. Every suicide is a tragedy that haunts the deceased's loved ones forever - the tragedy occurring most of the time due to the victim not being able to open up about their problem due to the taboo.
Bringing an end to this taboo in a unique initiative - 'Mann Mela' by Sangath, a Goa-based Non-Government Organisation (NGO) that focuses on mental health, among other things.
Launched as a part of Sangath's 'It's Ok To Talk' youth campaign, 'Mann Mela' is a two-year-long unique pop-up museum comprising interactive projects and artefacts, which reflect the real-life experiences of people with mental health needs. It is created using a "playful juxtaposition of arts, technology and science."
"These projects and artefacts reflect the stories of individuals' real life experiences with mental health needs, told through the components of the museum," Pattie Gonsalves, who leads the project, tells The Logical Indian.
Mann Mela is the result of a collaborative effort by a team of young people, including those who battled mental health issues, researchers and experts, designers, artists and technologists. It is being implemented in collaboration with Quicksand Design Studio - a person-centred design company - and is supported by the Welcome Trust, UK.
"At Mann Mela, we believe that mental health is one of our most important human assets, which helps us navigate the world around us. Today, a systemic lack of investment in the issue puts us in a serious mental health crisis," explains Gonsalves.
Solving this complex challenge by building awareness about mental health is what lies at the heart of Mann Mela.
Launched at the Goa Open Arts Festival(GOAF) in Goa from February 13 to 16, the work on the project began in 2019. It will now travel to Bhopal, Imphal, New Delhi and Mumbai.
At GOAF, Mann Mela featured two of their interactive portraits of young individuals from across the country. For these exhibits, the contributors were first identified and interviewed. Then, from their stories, various themes were identified, followed by the final step - the design and creation of interactive exhibits.
"We showcased 'Dear Diary' and 'A Day in My Life' drawing from the stories of a young woman and a non-binary gender identifying individual," says Gonsalves.
'It's Ok To Talk' Project
'It's Ok To Talk', a youth-centric project, provides a safe space for young people to freely express themselves. Whether it is to share one's own experience or that of their family and friends, the platform provides a space for those who find it difficult to articulate their feelings and experiences.
"In sharing our stories with others, we find comfort, strength, hope, and often, solidarity. While the circumstances, timelines and details may differ, the stories of our dreams, desires, relationships and struggles, invariably coincide," says Gonsalves.
"We believe that every individual travels a unique path through their experiences. A few seem to cope better than others, some have regular ups and downs, thriving at times and struggling otherwise, and yet others appear to struggle all the time," she adds.
Since its inception in 2016, the project has engaged over 7,000 people through events, workshops, and discussions. It has over 270 volunteers, has held 77 on-ground events, trained 50 youngsters in mental health leadership, and has helped 150 young people share their experiences with mental health.
In the long-run, the project aims to address broader conversations around mental health for youth in India, help reduce stigma, enhance awareness, and encourage help-seeking and demand for services.
"Mann Mela is only a window into the stories of a group of young people's lives, highlighting how they negotiate with different identities, choices and circumstances. We hope that in learning about their stories, viewers will ask questions, and perhaps make some discoveries too," says Gonsalves.
Currently, they are searching for young people from across the country, who wish to tell their stories through Mann Mela. In addition, they are working on setting up the museum in colleges in the five cities.
Under the ambit of 'It's Ok To Talk', the team is also planning to set up a project on youth suicide prevention.
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